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MAY 2009



Production Increases Must Come From Many Countries

Martha Blum,
Agri News Online,
april 26, 2009

As the world population continues to grow, American agriculture will not be able to feed and fuel the world by itself. It will require the efforts of farmers around the globe.

"That means it will include the development of agriculture in areas where there are underutilized resources like South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa," said Neil Conklin, president of Farm Foundation, during a meeting hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

During the event, the group discussed its report, "Renewing American Leadership in the Fight against Global Hunger and Poverty: The Chicago Initiative on Global Agriculture Development." The council developed the report to provide members of the 111th Congress information about the impact of rural poverty and food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

"If we're going to follow the strategic plans laid out in this report, one thing we're going to have to do is be able to engage the support across the board of our population in the United States," Conklin said. "And that includes those engaged in commercial agriculture in the United States."

Conklin used his grandfather's farm from the late 1920s that was located in Vermont as an example. At that time, his grandfather used horses and a team of oxen to complete farm chores. The dairy cows were milked by hand and there was a dirt road that connected the farms to the closest market.

"The key for my grandfather to become more successful was infrastructure like roads and electricity," Conklin said. "It required not only government money but development in the private sector to build the systems we have today that connects producers to consumers."

One of the biggest challenges today in the United States Conklin said, is that there are two competing visions for agriculture. "One is large-scale, science-driven farms that are connected to consumers through large national supply chains," he explained. "The competing vision is small-scale agriculture that is connected to consumers through local efforts."

Conklin expects the future lies in neither of these visions alone, but instead both of them together. Per Pinstrup-Andersen, H.E. Babcock professor of food, nutrition and public policy in the division of nutritional sciences at Cornell University, said that in just 20 minutes, 200 pre-school children had died.

"Most of them are in Africa and South Asia, in the rural areas and a large share died because the of crop failure that resulted in extreme poverty," he said. "During that same 20 minutes, millions of farmers were misusing natural resources by climbing up hillsides, cutting down forests and extracting nutrients from the soil," Pinstrup-Andersen said. "But they didn't have a choice because science hasn't reached them and they're just trying to survive."

Poverty causes degradation of natural resources and child death, Pinstrup-Andersen said. "Science can help us produce more food for future generations," he said. "We are still adding around 70 million people to the world population every year."

It is also important to utilize science to increase productivity by helping farmers produce more per unit of land and more per unit of water, or more crop per drop, Pinstrup-Andersen said. "From 70 to 80 percent of the world's fresh water is used in agriculture and much of it is wasted," he added.

Utilizing science can also help reduce farmers' risk. "This is particularly important with climate change and changing weather patterns that are more severe or more unpredictable," Pinstrup-Andersen said. "We need to be ready for drought, floods or strong winds."

Gerald Steiner, executive vice president of sustainability and corporate affairs for Monsanto Co., emphasized the importance of developing locally adapted solutions for agriculture, especially for seed.

"The challenges that are faced in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are really the same challenges from an agricultural perspective that the rest of the world faces," Steiner said. "We need to double food production by 2050." This increase in food production is a daunting task, he admitted. "It needs to be done with the relatively same amount of land and water so that means we have to get more out of rain," Steiner said. "The Green Revolution means getting more productivity out of each unit of input."

Agriculture is an incremental business - where every year builds on the previous year. "We are making progress," Steiner said. "Today we're producing a bushel of corn in the United States for 30 percent less energy than 20 years ago."

That's why it is important for some consistency of investment and policy to occur for many years, according to Steiner, "because you take little steps every year and keep building on it." Low-income countries that expand economic growth on the basis of agricultural development will import more agricultural commodities than countries that don't grow on that basis, Pinstrup-Andersen said. "Helping developing countries invest more in the agricultural sector will help them, help us and it is the ethnically right thing to do," he said.

When representatives of developing countries visit the United States to learn about how futures markets operate, David Lehman, director of commodity research and product development for the CME Group said, they are advised to start by developing the cash market.

"In terms of developing these markets, it really comes down to centralized price information about the commodities must be available to more producers and consumers," Lehman said. "We are applying technologies to other countries," he said. "Our electronic trading platform is distributed to 86 countries around the world and six of them are in Africa and many are in South Asia."